Skip to main content

Michael Gove's O-levels

Well, that was bombshell yesterday, wasn't it? Certainly for other members of the coalition government who hadn't been told. What are we to make of Michael Gove's intention to ditch GCSEs, the national curriculum and multiple exam boards for subjects? Teachers have not asked for it? Nor parents? Some have sought an end to a 16+ exam full stop, but that's another matter.

Gove's claim is that GCSEs are not hard enough and that having different exam boards offering the same subject leads to dumbing down of content. His desire to do away with the national curriculum seems mostly to do with his conservative desire not to tell teachers what to do.

His inspiration seems to be the Singapore education system which sorts children into sheep and goats at an early stage, channelling them into different exams.

Gove's "O-level" would not be like the one which lasted up to 1987 as it would be aimed, we are told, at the top 75% of the school population. By setting more "rigorous" exams we would raise standards and compete more successfully in the PISA league tables (note that the new exams are proposed initially for maths, English and science, the only subjects measured by PISA).

*************

It occurs to me that the current GCSE is not sat by all pupils, so it is false to claim that it is a universal exam. It also occurs to me that, in modern languages, it is, generally speaking, reasonably challenging. My grammar school pupils are challenged and, despite the dubious nature of controlled assessments, we have complained little of the general level of difficulty. I cannot speak for my colleagues in maths, English and science, although I have never heard them complain about the levels of challenge in GCSE. In MFL there has been no noticeable grade inflation; in fact we have seen a certain degree of grade deflation at the A*/A grade area..

The existing GCSE, with its tiering system, allows for differentiation, and it is only in the highest powered independent schools that you see masses of A* grades. Teachers do not generally complain that it is too easy.

Michael Gove talks about taking the best from the highest performing educational jurisdictions. Singapore does well in PISA, but then so does Finland. These two nations have quite contrasting educational systems. the former being quite elitist and sorting pupils by ability at an early age, the latter using a fully comprehensive system. When he chooses the Singapore model he is reflecting his own prejudice. Creating a two tier examination system will not, as far as I can see, promote social mobility, and the students not doing the new "O-level" will be seen as second class pupils, just as CSE was seen as a worthless exam up against O-level pre 1987.

As for the national curriculum, why have one at primary level but not at secondary? In any case, we would end up with a de facto national curriculum set by the exam boards setting the exams. To my mind, it is entirely reasonable for a government to lay out, in simple terms, the general areas which children should study. What we have now, with some schools having to follow the NC and others not, is a dog's breakfast.

As for exam boards, I have no problem with doing away with competition between boards for subjects. Individual boards can always offer varying syllabuses in any case, to allow some flexibility and choice for teachers.

Michael Gove is in too much of a rush and in this case he is not responding to a perceived need. This seems like fag packet policy-making and I hope he gets slapped down promptly.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.

Attitudes16





An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’(http://pdcinmfl.com). The point i…